The amazingly malleable brain

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Flex Time / View Guide

1. Long-term potentiation, or LTP, is an important process in which individual connections between neurons are strengthened during learning. Can you find an article about using LTP to make mice smarter? 

Possible student response: The article “Gene tinkering makes memorable mice,” published 9/4/1999, discusses how a group of scientists genetically engineered mice to have more receptor subunits involved in LTP. Compared with normal mice, the engineered mice more easily remembered the location of an underwater platform that they could stand on instead of swimming, more quickly learned that a sound was associated with getting shocked and were more likely to explore new objects instead of ones that they had seen before.

2. The network of connections among neurons in the brain is called the connectome. Can you find an article that explains how the connectome can be studied by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)? 

Possible student response: The article “Cataloguing the connections,” published 2/22/2014, gives a detailed overview of brain-mapping projects. One of the article’s sidebars, called “The functional connectome” explains that increased blood flow is used as a proxy for local brain activity and can be measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Different regions of the brain that are consistently active at the same time are thought to be connected.

3. Connected brain regions that are most active when the brain is at rest make up the default mode network. What is the earliest Science News article you can find about the default mode network, and what does it say?  

Possible student response: The article “You are who you are by default,” published 7/18/2009, provides a great overview of the default mode network. It describes how the network can be visualized through both fMRI and positron emission tomography (PET) scans of the brain. The article discusses the roles that the default mode network could play in a wide range of situations, including daydreaming, personal identity, childhood development, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.